Twin Rivers taps charter school leader Sonja Cameron to fill board vacancy

Twin Rivers Unified trustees selected Sonja Cameron, an executive from a Rio Linda-based charter school network, to fill a vacancy on the board.
Twin Rivers Unified trustees selected Sonja Cameron, an executive from a Rio Linda-based charter school network, to fill a vacancy on the board. Courtesy of Sonja Cameron

Twin Rivers Unified school board members late Monday picked an executive from a Rio Linda-based charter school network to fill the Area 5 seat vacated by Cortez Quinn, who pleaded no contest to a felony in October.

Sonja Cameron, chief operations officer and co-founder of the Pacific Charter Institute, was chosen over 12 other candidates with a wide range of professional backgrounds.

One of Pacific Charter Institute’s programs, Heritage Peak Charter School, is an independent study and home-school program authorized by the Twin Rivers district. The school operates independently of the school district but serves Twin Rivers students.

Because Cameron is employed by a charter school and not Twin Rivers, she is not affected by a state law that prohibits school district employees from running for their district’s board, according to Sacramento county schools chief David Gordon.

Board members had planned to wait until a special board meeting Thursday to select the new trustee, but instead opted Monday to appoint Cameron when they realized the scoring system put her atop a majority of the trustees’ lists, said trustee Linda Fowler. The motion to accept Cameron as the next board member was unanimous.

“She has tremendous experience in education,” Fowler said. “She has the ability to be objective in her decision-making and every decision would be looked on as the best interest of the students.”

Cameron has 33 years of experience in public schools, including 18 years in the Center Unified district and 15 years with charter schools. Pacific Charter Institute operates Rio Linda-based Heritage Peak Charter School, Lodi-based Rio Valley Charter School and Stockton-based Valley View Charter Prep. The institute serves 1,619 students.

On Tuesday, Cameron said she will put a high priority on closing the achievement gap. “It’s disappointing to me that certain groups of kids do so much better than other kids,” she said. “I believe that is a mandate we have been given from taxpayers in California.”

She also believes that board members should hold the superintendent accountable, while avoiding micromanaging. The board is there to set policy, she said, not run daily district operations.

The new trustee would like to see the district move forward from its troubled past. “It has been a rocky road for Twin Rivers, but at some point you have to put that behind you and go forward. Not that you don’t learn from history, you should,” Cameron said. “But you cannot be mired in the past, because yesterday is gone.”

Gordon said that Cameron will have to recuse herself from voting if the charter for Heritage Peak comes before the Twin Rivers board for renewal. Cameron said Tuesday she would “automatically” recuse herself from the vote when it comes up.

Cameron, 69, will be sworn into office Dec. 17 to complete the final two years of Quinn’s four-year term.

Quinn was sentenced to eight months in county jail Monday for conspiring to obstruct justice in a paternity case and accepting illegal loans and gifts from a school district employee.

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916)321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee